By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
Scattered across the lineup sheet for the University of New Hampshire are the logos of six NHL teams, indicating the players that have been selected in the draft.
That gives you an indication of the talent for the Wildcats, who are No. 10th in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll and No. 12 in the USCHO rankings.
There are no logos on the lineup sheet for Rochester Institute of Technology, which came into the weekend 20th in the USCHO poll and just outside the top 20 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rankings.
Still, the Tigers showed they’re not far away from college hockey’s elite programs, at least on this weekend. They defeated UNH 5-4 on Friday and were in position to complete the sweep on Saturday before giving up a pair of last-second goals.
Ryan Conmy scored with 5.3 seconds left in the third period and then Cy Leclerc converted a breakaway with 6.2 seconds remaining in overtime to give New Hampshire a 4-3 victory at the Gene Polisseni Center.
“Obviously this one’s fresh in our minds, especially giving up a goal with five seconds left and another with six seconds left,” Tigers junior center Carter Wilkie said. “But they’re a really good team and I think we showed where we are on the weekend.”
Had the Tigers (8-4) been able to avoid penalties – where have we heard that before? – the outcome may very well have been different on Saturday.
First-period goals by Elijah Gonsalves at 6:53 and Grady Hobbs at 14:26 staked RIT to a 2-0 lead. But first-year winger Christian Catalano was assessed a major penalty for contact to the head and ejected when he bashed Marty Lavins with an elbow at 15:41 of the first period.
The Wildcats (7-3-1) used the ensuing power play to tie the score before the period ended. Nick Cafarelli scored at 17:07 and LeClerc at 19:15.
“We’re not going to win anything with the penalties,” Tigers coach Wayne Wilson said. “It’s going to catch up to us somewhere in the playoffs (just as it did a year ago).”
RIT junior goalie Tommy Scarfone made sure UNH couldn’t pull ahead, despite a barrage of shots. New Hampshire outshot the Tigers in every period, 16-6 in the first, 16-8 in the second, 14-8 in the third and 3-2 in overtime, and Scarfone finished with a career-high 45 saves.
The Tigers used their second power play of the game to regain the lead at 9:49 of the third period. First-year winger Matthew Wilde posted up in the deep slot and tipped in Gianfranco Cassaro’s one-timer from the right circle for his fifth goal.
But they couldn’t close the deal. Wilkie’s off-the-glass clearing try was held in at the left point and the Wildcats were able to work the puck down low, move it behind the net and then pass it into slot where Conmy was free between the hash marks to one-time it into an open left side of the net.
After both teams had good chance in the three-on-three overtime, RIT’s Cody Laskosky was robbed on a breakaway by goalie Jakob Hellsten with 1:13 remaining. The Wildcats then used a breakaway of their own by LeClerc to win it, with the sophomore centerman clanking a perfect shot in off the left post.
“Obviously it stings right now,” Gonsalves said, “but this was a good effort. We just need to keep improving on our strengths and clean up our weaknesses.”
One of those is an ability to lock it down in the final minute.
“I loved our heart tonight,” Wilson said. “This is a highly-ranked team and you learn some tough lessons. A one-goal lead with under 20 seconds left, under 15, under 10, you’ve got to find a way to finish it off.”
That said, the calendar hasn’t turned to December yet and the bulk of the Atlantic Hockey schedule remains. And the Tigers do have feather-in-the-cap victories over Notre Dame (3-0 in the Brick City Homecoming Game on Oct. 14) and New Hampshire on Friday.
But rankings aren’t really what matters now.
“You go about your business and now we’re focused on RMU (Robert Morris University, next weekend’s opponent at The Gene),” Wilkie said. “Hopefully this is a good stepping stone to build on.”